Last Thursday’s San Leandro Times included a number of interesting letters from local citizens. One that particularly caught my eye was sent by Leo West and concerned the use of monitoring software on the networked computers at the library. According to the letter, “any librarian can log in and watch what any computer-user is watching – contacts, contents of materials received or sent, websites used, everything”.
I talked to the library about this issue and I was told that the software in question has been installed so the city’s IT department (the library does not have its own) can troubleshoot computer problems over the network, from their home base at city hall. Librarians themselves can only access the software for very limited purposes (like extending the time a patron can use the computer). IT staff will access the software when a patron reports a problem, so the patron will be aware of what the staff is doing.
No records are kept of patron’s computer sessions.
Personally, I’m not overly concerned about the library staff or the IT staff at city hall watching over my shoulders (in particular after 5 PM, I very much doubt anyone is left over at City Hall after working hours) – but this tool potentially could be misused. That’s just as true of a pencil, however.